I am vibrating with anger right now. The ferocious anger of a Mother Bear when someone has attacked her cubs. And someone has. Priests and Bishops have attacked the children and teens and even adults of my Church community, my family.
"Church" people often shy away from anger - after all it's considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins. But there's a difference between righteous and destructive anger. Right here, right now, is the time for good and necessary righteous anger to flourish in our hearts - as individuals and as a Church. And there are a variety of ways that people are expressing their volcanic anger, an anger which, in this case, is also one of the stages of grief - a terrible grief and sense of betrayal over what is happening in our Church family.
...The righteous anger in the breaking, furious voices of those abused and betrayed by priests, bishops, religious men and women, and Church workers.
...The righteous anger of parishioners, stunned, disgusted, and shaken that the Pastor whom they loved and revered for years had excelled in compartmentalization, because he attacked and sexually abused children, teens, or adults.
....The righteous anger of innocent priests - and I know some - who have been accused by liars, and who are fighting to prove themselves innocent.
....The righteous anger of members of a Diocese, confronted with information that alleges that their Bishop did not handle sex abuse accusations in the past in a transparent manner.
Yet all this free-floating anger is also in danger of dividing the Church as people search for answers and a way forward. Angry voices compete with one another in rising decibels: "The Bishop should resign;" "No, the Bishop shouldn't resign;" "all the Bishops should resign;" "No, only the Bishops who can be proven guilty of misconduct and negligence should resign;" and, most heart-breaking, "The Pope should resign; we can't trust him anymore."
The anger enveloping the Church right now can be a righteous anger, or it can be a destructive anger that rips apart our unity. What is the difference? After all, we know Jesus was often angry. Can the way Jesus handled anger teach us something?
There are several instances in Scripture when Jesus expressed anger, notably when dealing with the hypocritical Church leaders, the Scribes and Pharisees:
Addressing the Pharisees. Matthew 23
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! ... Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.
Healing the Man with the Withered Hand Mark 3
"Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come here." And he said to them, "Is it lawful on the sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him."
Of course, the most impressive display of Jesus' anger was his cleansing of the Temple:
Matthew 21:12-17 English Standard Version (ESV)Jesus Cleanses the Temple
12 And Jesus entered the temple[a] and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons.13 He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.”
Lisa Harper explains the difference between righteous and destructive anger very well:
"Jesus expressed anger—at the Pharisees who exhibited such hard hearts (Mark 3:1-5) and at the crass commercialism that sullied the temple (Matthew 21:12-13; Luke 19:45-48)—to convey extreme displeasure over sin. Those reasons are the key to righteous anger.
"How does this affect me? As Christ-followers, we're totally appropriate getting upset over sin, too. Evils such as abuse, racism, pornography, and child sex trafficking should incense us.
"But no matter how reprehensible the people or activities we're condemning, we still aren't justified to sin in our responses: 'When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day' (Ephesians 4:26, NCV). Those of us with confrontational personalities might want to ask ourselves the question, Is my motive to be right or to be righteous? before ripping into the offending parties.
"Such considerations also help us be pokey in getting peeved: 'Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God' (James 1:19–20, ESV). Instead of replying immediately, simply counting to ten before reacting usually leads to much better results in a contentious situation.
"Then after we take offense, we should take redemptive action. Christians must get involved with organizations working to free children from slavery and volunteer at shelters working to protect battered women. We must lead the charge against hatred and oppression and cruelty!
"Ultimately, if our outrage results in restoring people into loving, healing relationships with Jesus, it's righteous anger."
Anger is a reflexive human emotion. Anger, in and of itself, is not sinful. The Catholic Catechism says that, in themselves, passions are neither good nor evil... Passions are morally good when they contribute to good action, evil in the opposite case....Emotions and feelings can be taken up into the virtues, or perverted by the vices." (from articles 1767 and 1768.)
Jesus was always in full command of his anger. He always used it as energy to work for the good - to confront people over their evil actions and so return them to unity with the Father. As should we! If we pour our anger back into ourselves, we become depressed. If we pour it indiscriminately over others who see the situation differently than we do and want the Church to respond in a different way than we do, we are not being quick to hear, slow to speak; we are lacking in empathetic understanding. If we allow anger to pour out of us in a focused way, intent on positive change in the Church, intent on redemptive action that will build up the Church, we are true Christ-followers.
One way to "point our anger in the right direction" is to recognize that each Bishop in the U.S. has handled sex abuse cases in a different way, and that sometimes other Diocesan staff members handle things themselves and do not even tell the Bishop what is going on, thereby sabotaging investigations. In "America" magazine, Jim McDermott mentions a high level case of this occurring:
"One disclosure that seems like the canary in the coal mine for U.S. bishops was the admission by the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Séan P. O’Malley, that his private secretary had been informed of allegations about then-Cardinal McCarrick (accused of sexually molesting seminarians) in 2015 but had not passed that information to the cardinal because 'individual cases such as he proposed for review fell outside the mandate of the Commission'—referring to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, which Cardinal O’Malley has presided over since 2013.
"Cardinal O’Malley has long been lauded for his pastoral and judicious approach in handling abuse claims. Yet his private secretary did not think allegations against Archbishop McCarrick warranted his attention. That is how broken the culture within the U.S. church would seem to be; even with the right person in place, one who has demonstrated a commitment to the truth and pastoral care, the system still prioritized self-preservation and secrecy."
A variety of voices, energized by righteous anger, see various ways forward for the Church:
The Editors of "America" magazine have their own suggestions to make about reform:
"The church must prioritize listening to survivors of abuse and seeking justice for them. Clear public mechanisms to report abuse and misconduct and to discipline bishops who fail in their duties must be established. The church must undertake a comprehensive, transparent accounting of its tragic failures over the past decades and conduct and cooperate with any necessary investigations."
The laity can play a huge role in reforming Church policy. The U.S. Bishops maintain a National Lay Review Board, composed of prominent Catholic professionals, including those with roles in law enforcement and education who advise the United States Catholic Conference on ways to prevent the sexual abuse of minors in the U.S. The original lay review board released a 158-page report in 2004 that detailed the church’s mishandling of sexual abuse claims, studied the causes of the crisis and made recommendations about creating safe environments for children. However, the Board now says that much work still needs to be done, particularly when it comes to holding Bishops accountable.
Last week, the Founding Members of the National Review Board released a statement calling for an investigation led by lay people into allegations that bishops and other church leaders mishandled abuse claims.
“The National Review Board has for several years expressed its concern that bishops not become complacent in their response to sexual abuse by the clergy,” the statement said. “It is time for the laity to assume courageous leadership to help the Church respond and to heal and for the bishops to listen carefully to our recommendations.”
"A new board," Judge Burke, spokeswoman for the Board, wrote, should investigate the church’s mishandling of abuse allegations that pre-date the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the "flaw in the Charter which has always exempted the bishops from the process,” and an investigation into Archbishop McCarrick’s case.
In June, Pope Francis removed from public ministry then-Cardinal McCarrick because of a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse against a minor that is alleged to have occurred several decades ago. The cardinal resigned from the College of Cardinals in July after allegations of sexual misconduct involving priests and seminarians were made public. Judge Burke asked that Cardinal Daniel Di Nardo, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, recommend that the board work directly with the Vatican.
What of the Bishop of Rome, the Pope? When did he become aware of the allegations against Archbishop McCarrick? Can we trust him now to lead the Church? I believe we can.
We know this: previous Popes did not remove McCarrick from office - Pope Francis did.
We know how Pope Francis handled the clerical sex abuse scandal in Chile. At first he did not believe the accusers of one of the members of the Church hierarchy. Then when he was confronted and reprimanded, Francis apologized, admitting he had made “serious errors of judgment and perception of the situation.” In April, he met with three men who had been abused as teenagers. He humbly listened to them and sent a team to Chile to listen to the victims of sex abuse and come back with suggestions. They did - and in May, the Pope convened a three day summit of discernment for the Chilean Bishops.
On the first day, May 15, he read a 10-page document to them which he had prepared that offered his diagnosis of the crisis in the Chilean church, based on the report from Archbishop Charles Scicluna and Msgr. Jordi Bertomeu, whom he had sent to Chile “to listen to the victims.” Francis gave each of the bishops a copy of that text and asked them to “reflect and pray” on it. On the following two days each of the bishops spoke from the heart, in a spirit of dialogue. And then the bishops decided on the steps they should take, which they outlined in this declaration. All thirty-six of the Bishops handed in their resignation to the Pope and asked him to look at each of their cases, their lives, and decide what should be done with them. So far, he has accepted six of their resignations. Prosecutors are already looking into the numerous crimes of the Chilean clergy.
We can look at how Pope Francis has humbly admitted the Church's damaging role in the sexual abuse scandals in Ireland, how he has taken time to personally listen to the victims just this past month.
This Pope is on a learning curve. Each crisis has taught him more about the scourge of sexual abuse. He is listening to victims. He is learning. He is also both methodical and one who consults with others to receive a wide range of opinions. Undoubtedly when he meets with the U.S. Bishops, the result will be a new, more all-encompassing approach to holding both Bishops and priests accountable for their crimes.
Earlier this month, the USCCB announced they would request an official Vatican investigation into McCarrick’s past, as well as take new measures to hold bishops involved in abuse or its cover-up accountable.
“I am eager for an audience with the Holy Father to earn his support for our plan of action," wrote Cardinal Daniel DiNardo. "That plan includes more detailed proposals to: Seek out these answers, make reporting of abuse and misconduct by bishops easier, and improve procedures for resolving complaints against bishops."
Can we admit, during our anger, that the whole Church is on a learning curve? We cannot, must not, allow our anger to make us turn on each other, or feel hopeless and abandoned by God, as individuals or as a Church. On the Feast of the Assumption, Fr. Sam Sawyer, S.J., reminds us that, after all, God is our Deliverer, and Mary, the Mother of Jesus, praised God the Deliverer in her Magnificat:
"We... have today the words of the Gospel for this feast, in which two women prophesy. Elizabeth greets Mary in joy and amazement that “the mother of my Lord should come to me,” and Mary responds by praising God, who lifts up the poor and the humble and casts down the proud and the rich....
"This young woman from Nazareth, proclaiming that God comes in power to the aid of the least and lowliest—she is God’s promise to the church, and she is the image of what God desires for our human nature.
"The reason for our hope, and the beginning of any healing, cannot be what those with power in the church say or promise. Those words have been hollowed out.
"Instead, we place our hope in God, who scatters the proud in their conceit and casts down the mighty from their thrones, and who remembers his promise of mercy forever. We hope in the God that Elizabeth and Mary announced, and we hope in the God who gave us Mary as the image and promise of what the church is called to be.
"This is not an answer to the tragedy of sexual abuse committed at the hands of the church. We still need to hear the stories of those who have survived abuse and work for their healing. We still need to embrace transparency and seek justice for those who have suffered. We still need to find ways to hold accountable all those, especially bishops, who have failed in their ministry of governance.
"But while Mary’s Magnificat does not give us an answer, it does give us a place to begin—by placing our faith not in power and authority, but in God’s will to come and save his people, lifting up the poor and lowly and casting down the proud. May God give us the courage to begin there."
Jesus speaks through his people today as we reprimand with righteous anger those Church leaders who are hypocrites, who abuse the innocent and/or cover up the misdeeds of the clergy who commit these crimes:
"Woe to you! Blind guides! White-washed tombs! You have neglected the weightier matters of the Law - Justice for the innocent who have been abused, Mercy for these innocents, and through your hypocrisy, you have wounded our precious Faith! Woe to you who have shown that you have hardened hearts!"
Jesus channeled his anger into justice, mercy, and healing. He confronted the unjust laws of his time. He healed those whom his church hierarchy neglected and shunned. We too need to channel our anger into works of justice, mercy, and healing. We as Christ-followers, need to be open to Jesus praying in us and through us, prayers of trust in his Heavenly Father, the Deliverer, prayers for courage for us, prayers of unity for the Church, the Body of Christ. We need to channel our anger into redemptive action - listening to all those who are hurting, voicing our opinions of how our Church can move forward, searching for concrete ways that laity can participate in reforming a beloved Church whom we choose to not abandon but reform.